Day Schools See Future With Non-Jews

Facing Enrollment Dip, Some See Model for Jewish Education

Mixed Bag: Some Jewish schools see accepting non-Jewish students as an answer to dwindling enrollment. But others see a threat to maintaining Jewish identity.
courtesy of lippman school
Mixed Bag: Some Jewish schools see accepting non-Jewish students as an answer to dwindling enrollment. But others see a threat to maintaining Jewish identity.

By Elicia Brown

Published January 25, 2012, issue of February 03, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Before sending her 6-year-old son, Charlie, off to day school in September, Brenda Hite wondered if she’d made the right decision. Neither Hite nor her husband, Tom, are Jewish, but the public school options in their hometown of Akron, Ohio, didn’t enthrall them. So they applied to the local Lippman School, which impressed the Hites with its new global perspective and its energetic and experienced educators.

“Once we learned more about the Jewish culture and religion, and how steeped everything is in Old World values, the Lippman School became very attractive to us,” said Hite, who, like her husband, grew up in a Christian household. Also, she said, “It didn’t feel like Charlie would get the individualized attention at a public school that he would receive at Lippman.”

“It was kind of a leap,” admits Hite. “But after the first day, our son was all smiles,” she said, adding that Charlie adores the school’s weekly Shabbat celebrations.

The Lippman School is engaged in an experiment of sorts among unaffiliated community day schools — one that may soon be replicated in several other shrinking Jewish communities. For schools in regions with declining Jewish populations, attracting families like the Hites could be just the buoy needed to stay afloat.

“Many day schools are valued because they offer what is perceived to be a high-quality education, and that’s not limited in appeal to Jews alone,” said Jonathan Woocher, chief ideas officer at the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA), an organization dedicated to strengthening Jewish education. Also, as with parochial Catholic schools, whose non-Catholic enrollment has increased in recent decades, the education at Jewish schools is “often offered at a price that is less than non-sectarian schools,” Woocher said. In Lippman’s case, that’s $7,500 annually.

But the solution runs the risk of polarizing Jewish families, according to Marc Kramer, executive director of RAVSAK: The Jewish Community Day School Network. “It’s an approach loaded with opportunities but also fraught with potential dilemmas,” such as how to handle kosher food policy and celebrations of Christmas, as well as interfaith dating among older children, he said. “[However] we do not want a vibrant Jewish education to be only in big city centers. We need Jewish education to be a viable option all over America.”

The strategy could also potentially backfire if Jewish families flee, fearing dilution of Jewish content and experience, or that their donated dollars are going to non-Jewish causes. At Lippman, for example, financial aid is available for both Jews and non-Jews, and while specific dollars go toward supporting Judaic studies programs, local Federation money supports the entire school.

What’s more, admitting non-Jewish students to Jewish day schools brings up serious philosophical questions about the nature and purpose of Jewish education. Jewish day schools have always seen themselves as educating the next crop of Jewish leaders in order to reverse the tide of assimilation. By bringing non-Jews into the mix, they might be hindering their own cause.

“Here’s what you need to think about: Can schools that take in non-Jews maintain their core Jewish identity and mission over the long term? In the beginning they might, but what happens over the long term? Does that get diminished?” said Amy Katz, executive director of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.